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TEWIN (UK): Locals in the picturesque village where fugitive business-owner Vijay Mallya resides say they don’t want him to be extradited.
Whilst Indian fans booed ‘chor’ (thief) at Mallya in June and there is public support in India for him to face criminal charges, the commuters, families and multi-millionaires, who live in close-knit affluent Tewin, around 48km north of London, consider him a hero.
Mallya is accused of defaulting on loans worth Rs 9,000 crore that 17 Indian banks gave to his now bust Kingfisher Airlines. He is also accused of fraudulently obtaining these loans and of laundering the money to British companies including Silverstone-based Sahara Force India F1 Team, which he co-owns. But his charm, charisma and overt wealth and the fact that he purchased a Christmas tree for the village green have earned him respect and support among the 2,000 residents of Tewin.
“He is a great asset to this village,” said the Rose and Crown pub’s barman. “We are happy to have people like him — it’s impressive he is involved in Formula One. Lewis Hamilton used to serve beer in this bar — there is an affinity with F1 here, as you can see from the car show,” he said, referring to the Tewin Classic Car Show to which thousands of people descend upon each year.
Even the transaction of Mallya’s house, which Mallya bought from Lewis Hamilton’s father, Anthony, has been structured unusually. The mortgage is in the name of a company Ladywalk LLP, which has two members, Switzerland-based Andrea Rishaal Vallabh and offshore tax haven St Kitts and Nevis based Continental Administration Services Limited. Records show that Ladywalk Investments, registered in the British Virgin Islands, lent Ladywalk LLP £7.2 million (Rs 62 crore) in 2015 to purchase the property which it borrowed from Edmond de Rothschild. The estate is believed to be worth £11.5 million (Rs 99 crore) now. “He walks around the car show and people like the fact he is an important F1 man. No one has said a bad word about him,” the barman added.”There are not many people that are prepared to put their hand in their pocket and donate a Christmas tree. That would have cost £1,500 (Rs 13 lakh),” the barman said.
Tewin is a bastion of English traditions with a village green, scout hut, Christmas carol concert, a local cricket club and a red telephone box. “There are people in the village that know the royal family,” the barman boasted.
“People know he is in some sort of bother. But most rich people could be in bother, couldn’t they?” the barman said. “We all hope he does not get extradited. Let’s keep him in Tewin. God bless Mallya. I hope he comes into my pub. He can have a Bombay Sapphire on the house.”
The UB Group chairman begins the first day of his extradition hearing on Monday.
“You just hear stuff about money laundering and stuff like that, that he is in a lot of trouble,” a local man at the bar said. “He doesn’t come here. He goes to the Plume, which has two meal deals for £10 (Rs 860). Perhaps because of his money laundering,” he joked. “He invited the Plume staff to his Diwali party. They said his place was amazing and has a bowling alley, cinema room and swimming pool. He flies in a helicopter. I’ve heard he keeps all his classic cars underground.”
The manager of the Plume of Feathers said she was under strict instructions not to speak to the press. Mallya’s local pub The Horns has mounted deer heads on the wall and is the kind of place old money would choose. Mallya has clearly integrated into the upper echelons of British society. “What he does in his spare time is up to him,” the manager said, leaping to his defence.
Pictures of the Hertfordshire Hunt adorn the walls of the Country Bumpkin cafe. “That Indian beer fellow is loaded, but he is very down to earth,” the chef said. “He comes in here with his wife and children. He does not show off like some rich people. I know the Indian Government is after him, but we don’t care. It’s his life. Live and let live.”
A road wound past fields of cows, sheep and horses and entered deep woodland as Mallya’s estate approached.
As TOI took photos, a voice boomed through a loudspeaker “that’s close enough”. Swiftly a security guard appeared. “Is Mallya in?” “He is not,” he replied. The lights were on and a number of expensive cars were parked in the grounds.